Microsoft CRM 3.0 Makes an Early Debut
Microsoft may put an end to its history of pushed-back release dates with an earlier-than-first-announced launch of Microsoft CRM 3.0, now slotted for December 2005. The software giant previously announced that version 3.0 would be available to its existing customer constituency in the fourth quarter of 2005, and that the version would be generally available in Q1 2006. The announcement comes a day after the company previewed Windows Live and Microsoft Office Live, two Web-based services designed for individuals and small businesses. Brad Wilson, general manager of Microsoft CRM, admits that Q1 was a broad timeframe for customers who had been waiting for 3.0, but early December "really locks it down," he says. "What this means is...we're going to beat our publicly stated release date." The company was ahead of its internal schedules, but it wanted to be conservative in its public guidance, according to Wilson.
From a planning perspective, "our prospects [and partners] will know what they're going to get when," Wilson says. "As we go into the end of the calendar year, [when] a lot of businesses are making the final push to make IT purchases, people can buy with confidence...knowing exactly when they're going to have their release."
The eagerly anticipated offering, Microsoft's strongest CRM push to date, will feature enhancements like Outlook integration; marketing functionality, including list management, campaign management, marketing resource management, closed-loop response management, and a scheduling module; and subscription-based licensing for end-user companies attracted to hosted offerings. Hosting will be available via partners. The English version will be available worldwide in December, and Microsoft will roll out 23 languages within the next few months--first, European languages and then Asia-Pacific languages, including Chinese and Japanese. "A lot of the partners of our competitors have expressed interest...saying this is the release that we've been waiting for to really become part of the Microsoft partner community for CRM," Wilson says.
Greg Gianforte, CEO and founder of RightNow Technologies, contends that the early unveiling is an indication that Microsoft is seeing "the CRM market quickly slipping out of their grasp. They've had very limited success in CRM to date, and we don't see that changing with this version. Microsoft is in the business of selling mass-market software infrastructure and tools, not the business of delivering highly customized, fully functional enterprise applications."
Even without having released its last Microsoft CRM product in North America since December 2003 (version 1.2), the lack of a refreshed offering hasn't stopped the company from doubling its CRM customer base in FY ending June 2005 from the previous year. Microsoft CRM currently has more than 5,500 customers and more than 150,000 users, according to Wilson.
Industry consolidation, namely Oracle's proposed acquisition of Siebel Systems, provides a window of opportunity in Wilson's eyes. "Right now the continuing uncertainty around existing CRM vendors in the marketplace is causing customers to reassess their CRM technology decisions and a lot of those customers are turning to Microsoft CRM to evaluate us," he says. "We don't necessarily want to rip and replace anything. We want to be much more of a complementary strategy as people upgrade user seats within the enterprise."
George Goodall, research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, sees the announcement as primarily a marketing maneuver. "They're trying to bundle in the CRM announcement along with some of the Office and the Windows Live announcements and this notion of really trying to cash in on software as a service and on-demand services." Overall, though, Microsoft CRM 3.0 is "a good product for the midmarket," he says. "One of the real strengths for the product is really more from the perspective of workflow management and tying together a lot of those other productivity applications that are already ubiquitous in the workplace. The product is baked and ready to go."
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